Lewes, United Kingdom, tourist attractions, pictures Gallery

Historic Lewes

At the heart of beautiful Sussex Country, romantic Lewes presides over the surrounding Downland with an air of traditional elegance. Savour the warren of tiny twittens and medieval streets lined with antique, craft and speciality shops; admire a medley of architectural styles and follow in the footsteps of many of the world’s most innovative artists, authors and revolutionaries. Explore the 17thC gardens of Southover Grange or the remains of the Cluniac Priory and discover Sussex Past’s imposing Norman Castle and magnificent Anne of Cleves House Museum.

The town is famous for its annual Guy Fawkes Night celebrations on the 5th of November. In Lewes this event not only marks the date of the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, but also commemorates the memory of 17 Protestant martyrs who were burnt at the stake in the town during the Marian Persecutions of 1555–1557.

The current celebrations take the form of a series of torchlit processions through the town. The event is organised by the local bonfire societies. Lewes itself currently has seven bonfire societies (Nevill Juveniles is a children’s society and holds its celebrations a week or two before the 5 November; Southover, which disbanded in 1985, reformed in 2005) and a number of nearby towns have their own bonfire societies. The other five local bonfire societies from the town (Cliffe, Borough, Commercial Square, South Street and Waterloo) each proceed on their own route accompanied by a number of other societies from the neighbouring towns.

Each bonfire society has its own traditional costumes (ranging from Tudor dress to Mongol warriors). A number of large effigies are drawn though the streets. (Effigies don’t contain fireworks when dragged through the street, they are dummies). Effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V, who became head of the Roman Catholic Church in 1605, feature every year. In addition each of the five main local societies creates a topical effigy, and the Cliffe society displays on pikes the heads (also in effigy) of its current “Enemies of Bonfire”, who range from nationally reviled figures to local officials who have attempted to place restrictions on the event.

In 2001 an effigy of Osama bin Laden ensured that the annual event received more press attention than usual (it featured on the front page of some national newspapers) as did the Firle Bonfire Society’s 2002 choice of a gypsy caravan. To mark the demise of the 17 martyrs, 17 burning crosses are carried through the town, and a wreath-laying ceremony occurs at the War Memorial in the centre of town. A “tar barrel” is also thrown into the river Ouse. The festivities culminate in five separate bonfire displays, where the effigies are destroyed by firework and flame. Up to 80,000 people have been known to attend this local spectacle.

Lewes is SE of London, NE of Brighton and just NW of the port town of Newhaven. Nearest major airport is London’s Gatwick Airport to the NE with alternative routes via the A275 or A27 to the A23.

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